Today’s message is the fifth in our current series titled “Church Basics”. We have been going over some of the fundamental truths regarding the church. To date, we have talked about the establishment of the church, the beginning of the church, the organization of the church as the Body of Christ, and the sanctity of the church as the Bride of Christ. We have identified several important principles that have deepened our understanding of what the church is.
This morning we will begin a 2-part sermon concentrating on the major purposes of the church. What is the church supposed to be doing? If the church cannot name its purposes, how can she hope to achieve them effectively? Sadly, many congregations don’t really know what the Biblical objectives of the church should be. As a result they often become misdirected and/or dysfunctional.
As most of you know, before becoming a pastor I taught in the public schools for almost 13 years. Over the course of my career in education, I learned that students who did not know how to do their assignments would usually act out in one of three ways. On occasion, they would actually ask for help and try to figure out what to do. Unfortunately, this effort would frequently fade over time if they fell further and further behind. Many who had given up would simply pretend to be working, but in reality they were just guessing and trying to appear busy so that no one would notice. Others would intentionally misbehave, or act unruly, hoping to shift the attention away from their academic deficiencies and on to something else.
As a Christian who has attended church for my entire life, I’ve seen some parallels to the behavior of many churches. Those who do not know their purpose often are occupied with various tasks that make them appear busy, but they have limited success because they're just guessing their way through the church experience. Other churches become downright abrasive and destructive as they act out contrary to the will and way of God. These troubled churches misrepresent Jesus and can be a detriment to Christianity. As such, we the church need to know what our purposes are and how to put them into practice.
I. THE FIVE MAJOR PURPOSES
The church engages in countless numbers of activities and ministries. They are varied in a million different ways. Yet, all of them share one or more of the five purposes of the church. These purposes, as found throughout Scripture and summarized succinctly in Rick Warren's book “The Purpose Driven Church”, are as follows - worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry, and missions.
Worship can be described as giving or showing God all honor, praise, adoration and glory that is due Him. Worship can be both an attitude and an action, as we revere and pay homage to God through singing, praying, giving, serving, as so forth.
Discipleship is the act of embracing and spreading the teachings of God. It involves studying, learning, memorizing, and teaching the the Bible in order to become more knowledgeable of and aligned to the philosophy of Christ.
Fellowship has to do with the companionship or association of Christians with one another as the family of God. Through these relationships members of the church love, encourage, and support each other as fellow members of the body of Christ.
Ministry most commonly refers to service that tries to meet the physical, emotional, or spiritual needs of others. It includes activities such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, comforting the brokenhearted, or giving to the poor.
Missions involve the carrying and proclamation of the gospel message to lost people worldwide. Evangelism is the primary emphasis, with the goal of spreading the message of salvation to those who have not yet heard or accepted it.
In Part 1 of our message, we are going to examine the fist two purposes of the church - worship and discipleship. Next week we will discuss the final three - fellowship, ministry, and missions.
II. PURPOSE ONE - WORSHIP - Psalm 29:1-2
The first and most fundamental purpose of the church is to worship God. We are to ascribe to Him all glory, honor, and praise. We can and should worship the LORD in everything that we do, but there are particular activities that are generally considered to be more specific acts of worship. Among these are singing, praying, and giving. Whenever we as the church meet, we should always make it a priority to worship God both corporately and individually. Churches should aspire to create an environment that promotes true worship.
There are two critical principles that I want to point out as they apply to genuine worship. The first is that our worship needs to be directed. To me this means that we need to present our worship personally and pointedly to God. It is a matter of perspective that makes a tremendous difference in how effectively we worship. We should not be singing about Him, but rather singing to Him. We should not be giving to His causes per se, but rather giving to the LORD himself. We should move beyond praying about God, and instead pray to Him. The Lord should be the direct audience and recipient of our worship.
Secondly, our worship needs to be active. It requires our participation. Far too many churches have allowed their congregations to become passive spectators during a worship service. They have exchanged an atmosphere of authentic worship for one of entertainment and performance. While not all worship is visible or even audible, it is active - even if only in the mind of the worshiper. Worship is something that we are to do, not something that we are to watch…
III. PURPOSE TWO - DISCIPLESHIP - John 8:31-32
The second purpose of the church is discipleship. Jesus told His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations”. We are to teach people how to follow God, by using strategies that will foster and nurture spiritual growth and maturity. As is the case in all areas of the church, the individual bears a major portion of the responsibility for their own personal level of discipleship. Nevertheless, the church is still under obligation to provide opportunities to its members that will develop and deepen their understanding of and faith in God.
I believe that teaching and preaching the word of God, along with prayer, should be the primary tasks of the preacher/pastor [Acts 6:24]. It is his responsibility to communicate the truths of the Bible to his congregation in a manner that they can understand and appreciate. Furthermore, it is the preacher’s role to urge their flock to actually apply these teachings to their own lives and in that of the church. In order to do this effectively, he must model or practice what he preaches. Discipleship goes well beyond just an intellectual knowledge of the teachings of Christ, but it includes obedience to those teachings.
In the same way, parents share in the responsibility of discipling their children. Sunday school teachers share in the responsibility of discipling their classes. Bible study teachers share in the responsibility of discipling their small groups. Friends share in the responsibility of discipling one another. Because all Christians are disciplers of others to some degree or another, we must all take seriously our obligation to study and learn Scripture accurately so that we can teach and model it accordingly.
Most churches spend the majority of their time in either worship or discipleship. These two broad categories encompass most of the church's weekly activities. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this. Afterall, what is the point of the church if not to worship and glorify God? All of the purposes of the church are, at their root, to be acts of worship to God. We should constantly be telling and showing God that we love Him and that He is worthy of all of our praise.
It therefore stands to reason that if we love and revere God as we claim, that we will strive to obey His teaching and follow His direction. Jesus said that if we love Him then we will keep His commandments. This will require discipleship in order to learn and apply His will and way to our lives. Again, what value is the church if it does not adhere to the teachings of Christ and of the Scriptures? As born-again believers, we are to be disciples of Christ.
Next week we will conclude this sermon by taking a look at the final 3 purposes of the church - fellowship, ministry, and missions. While worship and discipleship predominantly take place inside the church itself, these other purposes move us beyond the confines of the church's walls and begin reaching out into the world. By keeping ourselves as the body of Christ healthy and strong internally, we are better equipped to make a meaningful difference and wield greater influence in the society at large.